For those not familiar with Japanese love hotels, they are exactly what they sound like. They are hotels for bonin.’ You may be thinking, “Pshh, whatever, I can bone in a regular hotel,” and you would be right, but there is something novel about a space specifically designed for it. What’s more, love hotels offer a whole new level of privacy and discretion. Absolutely no human interaction—not even a trip to the front desk—is required. If you pay cash, no one will ever know you were there, or with whom you went.* Though in this instance my choice of partner, my husband, was not particularly controversial, I still wasn’t super keen on running into anyone I knew from our small town.
We chose Hotel Enzo in Buzen for its fancy appearance and early check-in times (6pm compared to 10pm at similar spots). We arrived around 9:30 and pulled into what felt like a Sonic drive-in of attached cottages. Each room’s car nook sported a big lit sign indicating whether the room was vacant. Soothing music wafted through air. We’d perused the rooms online prior and had settled on 111 for its size and cozy lounge chairs. Luckily it was vacant, so we pulled in.
Next we debated. Now what? Will someone come give us a key? Maybe we just…go in? Cautiously, I exited the car. The room door was unlocked, and as soon as I opened it, our sign lit to “Occupied.”
When we entered, we were pleased to find the room already set. Nice temperature? Check. Mood lighting? Check. Sexy tunes? Check. We assessed the big bathtub, the karaoke setup, the tiny sex-toy vending machine, the velvet bag on the nightstand that encased a Hitachi magic wand.** Soon the phone rang, and in broken Japanese I relayed that we were opting for shukuhaku (lodging, or overnight stay). The voice gave me the ok and hung up. We congratulated ourselves. Then we headed back to the car the get our things.
Only we couldn’t. We were locked in. In my broken conversation with the concierge, we were agreeing not just to lodging, but to a full night of sexy imprisonment. “Makes sense I guess,” John pondered, poking at the automated payment machine on the wall. “How else would they make sure you pay?”
I paced the room. Everything we’d brought—our wine, our pajamas, our toothbrushes, was left in the car. I went into panic mode. I lamented the loss of control in my life, the language barrier, and living in a country where 70% of the time I do not know what the hell is going on.
Luckily, some signage near the phone helped me figure out how to call the front desk. I was able to piece together enough Japanese to tell the concierge that we’d forgotten something in our car. I didn’t fully understand her response, but she flipped whatever switch to let us out, and we needed only phone when we were ready to reset and be locked in again. Crisis averted; evening saved.
Once it was on my own terms, I was perfectly ok with being locked in romance jail again. We flipped through the food menu and the inexplicable perfume catalog, then spent a good 5 minutes futzing with the different lighting settings (we went with “Scene A”). John got the karaoke working on the TV, and we were good to go. We practiced our deepest, darkest, most embarrassing songs. It was a lovely evening.
Sleeping was a bit of a challenge with so many glowing controls on the nightstands. But it was so nice to be in a grown-up bed rather than our usual futon.
Hotel Enzo has a generous check-out time of noon, so the next morning while John showered, I took a bath in the tub with jets, happily overusing the hotel toiletries.
The automated payment machine was easy enough to figure out. We left around 11:30am, starving (note to self: next time bring breakfast pastries) but feeling like we’d spent the last 12 hours at the spa. We topped it all off with a trip to McDonald’s—the best McNuggets I’ve ever eaten.
All in all, it was utterly refreshing. Around the same price as a regular hotel (we paid about $70) but with more amenities, I think a love hotel would be a good option for any adult traveler. For our next sex-cursion, we have our eye on a local chain (hilariously-named Sky Dix) and a big Jurassic Park themed hotel a few towns over.
I haven’t used my arbitrary star system in a while, so now’s a good excuse. 😊 Ratings may change once I’ve got more love hotels under my belt for comparison.
Hotel Enzo, 364-1 Hachiya, Buzen, Fukuoka Prefecture 828-0021
(Ratings out of 5 stars)
*John has an amusing anecdote about Hotel Enzo, centered around two embarrassed parties trying to pull out of the hotel just as the town Gion parade passed by.
**Have been curious about these for a while. Let’s just say I am sold.